Outlining two major differences, the Senate voted unanimously Monday to reject the House budget proposal.
Sen. Harry Brown, a lead budget writer, said the House budget doesn’t provide enough money to pay for Medicaid costs and “bets on lottery proceeds to pay for teacher pay.”
In an interview later, Brown expressed concern about using additional lottery sales to balance the budget. He raised questions about the House overestimating the money it may receive from increased lottery advertising. The News & Observer reported Saturday that the lottery commission believes the $106 million estimate the House used is inflated by $47 million.
“I’m just not sure what the thought process in the House was on that,” said Brown, a Jacksonville Republican.
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Asked whether the Senate would agree to a budget that relies on increased lottery money, Brown said: “I just don’t think our folks at this point have an appetite.”
Senate budget subcommittees will meet Tuesday to discuss the differences. The full appropriations panel will do the same Wednesday and hear testimony from lottery officials. The negotiations between the two chambers are likely to start late Wednesday or Thursday.
But the bigger issue, Brown said, is Medicaid. He said the House budget writers underfunded the health care program for low income residents by roughly $250 million.
The House budget provided $83 million for Medicaid overruns in this current year, while the Senate put it at $180 million. For the next year, the House provided $118 million extra to covering increased costs while the Senate put in $266 million.
Senate budget writers believe the House version of Medicaid spending – combined with the lower lottery revenue forecasts – would lead to a massive shortfall next session and allowed them to avoid the hard decisions on how to balance the budget.
The Senate cut nearly 12,000 people who are elderly or disabled from the 1.8 million enrolled in Medicaid to save costs.
Asked whether the Senate is content to leave without a budget deal, Brown said he thought that was unlikely. But he did acknowledge the wide differences between the spending plans make it difficult to predict.
Earlier in the evening, the Senate gave final confirmation to two nominations from Gov. Pat McCrory. Linda Combs was confirmed as the new state controller and Charlton Allen was approved as the newest member of the N.C. Industrial Commission.
Allen’s pick sparked a protest from Democratic lawmakers, who renewed concerns about his past and opposition to a minimum wage.
“I believe such a person is not suitable to be representative of employees,” said Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, cited concerns about Allen’s past and racially tinged writings from his college days at UNC-Chapel Hill that were detailed in a recent Indy Week story. He said he wanted Allen to “repudiate” his previous statements and invoked the names of former South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond and Alabama Gov. George Wallace, saying even they acknowledged they made mistakes in their past.
The references drew a sharp retort from Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican who called Thurmond “a great American.”
“To bring those two up in this conversation I’m a little bit appalled,” he said.
Brown, too, came to Allen’s defense, saying if the lawmakers were held accountable for the “crazy things” they did in college, “it seems to me we would all have problems in this place.”